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Newport Aquarium Interdisciplinary Trip, October 19, 2021

Dec 10, 2021, 10:08 AM by Jessica Bloomer
ERC students and faculty visited the Newport Aquarium on October 19, 2021 to learn about health and safety protocols and requirements for animals, employees, and guests.

Trip Overview
By: Ryan Bellacov

Nine students and one faculty member went on a field trip to Newport Aquarium. Student participants were from the University of Cincinnati's (UC) industrial hygiene, occupational medicine residency, and occupational health nursing programs.

Our hosts were the Director of Operations and members of the Health and Safety Team at the Newport Aquarium, who welcomed us onsite. Our hosts were extremely hospitable, taking time to explain their day-to-day safety protocols. Every day, Newport Aquarium needs to meet safety challenges not found in the typical work environment. In addition to concern for the health and safety of guests and employees, Newport Aquarium genuinely cares about the well-being of the animals.

During our discussion, I noted the similarities to these safety procedures often seen in healthcare. It is commonplace to engage in staff huddles at the beginning of hospital floor shifts. Healthcare personnel will discuss expected safety protocols and changes to the floor environment that will be important for oncoming staff. Our discussion continued to similarities in the way that new personnel is trained to perform their job safely. It was inspiring to hear that biologists discuss each animal's behavior.

The Newport Aquarium has a high bar to achieve animal safety, staff safety, and public safety all at the same time. My observation is the Newport Aquarium rises to the challenge. 
ERC students and faculty tour the Newport Aquarium on October 19, 2021

Employee Safety
 Thomas Gerding and Jory Gould

Matt Deaton, Director of Operations at the Newport Aquarium led our tour. The aquarium opened in 1999 and is an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. The facility is owned by the Herschend Family Entertainment Group and was named #1 aquarium in the 2012 Readers’ Choice Travel Awards from Regarding health and safety topics, the aquarium has a unique perspective of incorporating employee, animal, and visitor safety. A unique safety consideration of the aquarium is in terms of the employee safety with animals and their enclosures. Slips and falls tend to be the most common injuries at the aquarium and many times involve patrons falling inside the facility, such as down an escalator. Within animal enclosures such as the cold penguin exhibit, slips and falls are the main concern as the rocky floor is slick and slippery and often wet. To combat this in a particularly risky area of the enclosure, anti-slip mats were placed down.

Another aspect of worker safety when working in an aquarium is that some animals such as lionfish or some snakes, are venomous. Because of this, the aquarium has a standard operating procedure (SOP) in place where, in the event of a venomization, the individual is taken to UC Hospital, where they are provided with antivenom. There are six first aid bags stored throughout the aquarium for ease of access in the event of an emergency for the 200 employees and any patrons.
Picture4    Picture6
Fish and other creatures in tanks at the Newport Aquarium

Finally, as fresh water and marine creatures live in various sizes of tanks, some of the aquarium tanks would be considered a confined space. Although they employ an accredited dive safety officer which can train and certify the aquariums dive team, when divers must clean the tank or to feed the animals, there must be extra safety considerations for entering a confined space. As this is the case, the safety lead is in the process of improving their SOPs related to diving within confined spaces. As they continue to develop this procedure, they will hopefully begin to implement the usage of confined space entry permitting.

Health and Safety Culture
By: Sofia Villaveces and Victoria Simmons

The Health and Safety Culture at Newport Aquarium was quite unique in comparison to any other workplace I have visited. Generally, safety professionals are entrusted with the job of ensuring the well-being and safety of workers.
One of the large tunnel walkway areas at the Newport Aquarium, allowing space for guests to move around safely

At the aquarium, the health and safety of visitors and the animals need to be considered, too. Given the wide age range and size of patrons that visit the aquarium, walkways and entries must be built with two feet tall children, six feet tall parents, and persons in wheelchairs in mind. Protocols and preventative methods to keep animals and guests within safe distance must also be put into place. Scenarios need to planned for cases in which a patron is injured by an animal or an animal escapes. Emergency exit plans have to be considered, not only evacuation of guests and workers, but also the animals. The light and dark cycles the animals are exposed to need to be accounted for as well. 

Career Paths of the Hosts
By: Ada Jesuthasan and Swade Barned

The University of Cincinnati students in the ERC program visited the Newport Aquarium in Kentucky and met with the safety team to learn about the safety features and procedures in place at the aquarium. Both members of the safety team had unique backgrounds and educational experiences. Matt, the director of operations, possessed a bachelor’s degree in business. Matt stated that the business degree was broad and allowed for a broad range of thinking. Prior to starting a career at the aquarium, Matt worked in several other safety positions and attended conferences to learn more about safety. The second member of the safety team, Kayla, held a degree in legal studies. The legal studies degree was stated to be applicable to almost any career path, as every job possesses some form of legal aspect. Kayla stated that entering the health and safety sector during the Covid-19 pandemic led to her safety position at the aquarium.

In addition to college education, both members of the safety team had several types of training that contributed to their respective career paths. A notable member of staff was a nurse who poses as a health advocate to all aquarium employees. The responsibilities of the nurse were to guide the staff with any medical necessities, such as mental and physical needs, to the appropriate resources.
ERC students and faculty talking with the aquarium guides 

The safety team has to consider training and education aspects beyond employees since the aquarium is a public attraction. Guest safety and animal welfare training were a critical part of their career paths. The Newport Aquarium is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), meaning that the training and education required to maintain the paperwork for the AZA status were obtained by the members of the safety team. Additionally, there were several other safety procedures related to animal welfare, such as first aid procedures and responding to emergency alert systems which were essential to the career path of the safety professionals at the aquarium. This tour allowed for a diverse and unique experience in the health and safety field. Students are thankful to the hosts of the Newport Aquarium tour and the ERC for arranging this field experience opportunity.      

Health and Safety Precautions 
By: Alexei Krainev and Taylor Buckley

Our Education and Research Center (ERC) trip to the Newport Aquarium allowed us to go to new depths—in the very direct sense—to explore the relevance and importance of occupational health in the setting of the aquatic recreation industry! Like the water in the aquarium, occupational health is something that is not readily noticed but is always present and must be continuously maintained and monitored for a complex organization such as the Newport Aquarium to continue to function at its peak. The occupational health precautions at the Newport Aquarium are quite unique and range from holding envenomation drills, performing mock evacuations of stranded scuba divers within the aquarium tanks as well as drills for emergency bleeding. You cannot be too careful with those albino alligators and sharks! The aquarium animal handlers are very skilled but precautions are always taken; the albino alligator pictured below, for example, is always handled by a total of three handlers—with one handler holding down the jaw of the alligator. Emergency bleeding kits are readily available with staff trained in appropriate tourniquet application.
albino aligator
Albino alligator which requires a total of three handlers any time it is handled, one to hold the jaw closed

The envenomation drills also deserve special mention and are illustrative of the high degree of coordination between all the team members of the aquarium in their ability to evacuate an injured colleague. 

Many thanks again to Mr. Matt Deaton and his colleagues for an informative and enlightening experience at the Newport Aquarium!

COVID-19 Policies
By: Hannah Phipps and Ashley Edgerly

On October 19, 2021, students from the ERC were given a unique opportunity to tour the Newport Aquarium from an occupational safety standpoint. Matt Deaton, Director of Operations, guided the tour and was joined by Safety Supervisor, Kayla, and Health Advocate Nurse, Mary.

Covid-19 has been a challenge that has added to the already complicated job of keeping workers safe. On top of keeping workers safe, staff at the Newport Aquarium must also protect visitors and the animals. In order to keep everyone safe, the Newport aquarium has implemented many new policies that are ever-changing during the unpredictable pandemic. Due to the pandemic, the Newport Aquarium temporarily closed on March 16, 2020, and was operating with fewer staff members to protect workers. They usually have over 200 hundred employees but, during the closure, operated with just 70. Since reopening on June 22, 2020, they have been returned to full staffing with approximately 200 hundred employees. In order to protect these employees and visitors from Covid-19, they are following CDC guidelines and requesting all unvaccinated visitors and staff to wear masks with the exception of visitors 12 and under, who are not required to wear a mask. They also have reduced their daily capacity so that it is easier to maintain social distancing. In addition, the Newport Aquarium has increased the number of areas where visitors can sanitize or wash their hands. In almost every exhibit, hand sanitizer is readily available for the staff and visitors. They also have to increase how often they are cleaning and sanitizing, especially areas that are touched, such as door handles, the escalator railing, and any other highly touched areas.

The Newport Aquarium is unique in that it has an on-site nurse, Mary, who provides health advocacy on a part-time basis. She is available for many things; however, when it comes to COVID-19, she acts as an educator for staff. Part of this duty includes educating on the signs and symptoms of COVID-19, guiding staff to the correct level of care, and providing vaccine education.  

The ERC group that attended the aquarium tour

Thank you to the Newport Aquarium and hosts Matt, Kayla, and Mary for sharing all the occupational health and safety requirements needed to effectively operate an aquarium and ensure animal, employee, and guest safety. 

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